This is an age of rampant conspiratorialism. Bill Gates is behind the pandemic because he wants to shoot you full of vaccines. No wait, it’s all those 5G cell towers. Or maybe it’s bioterrorism from China. Or just a hoax perpetrated by international capital to undermine Donald Trump, the people’s tribune. The right wing disinformation machine cranks out this stuff constantly, but paranoid fantasies also emanate from the left/alternative world.
So to counter the conspiracy pandemic, mainstream experts have come forward to advise us on how to detect and puncture unfounded rumors. The problem I see is that sometimes there really are conspiracies, and it isn’t immediately obvious how to separate the ones that might be true from the purely crazy.
In the public interest, I offer the following rule of thumb. A conspiracy, of course, is an agreement by a group of insiders to keep something important secret from the public. If the group is tightly organized, motivated and able to operate separately from those on the outside, it is capable of waging a conspiracy. If you relax these assumptions, however, you need additional groups to hide the initial conspiracy—in other words, secondary conspiracies. And if the secondary conspirators aren’t tight enough a third ring of conspiracies is required. As soon as you find yourself imagining lots of interlocking conspiracies to keep the central one secret you’ve wandered over the line.
Let’s see how this works in a pair of examples. For nearly six decades people have debated whether JFK’s assassination was the work of a conspiracy. I don’t have any particular insight to add, but the kind of plot laid out in David Talbot’s The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government is at least plausible. It’s reasonable to think a secret team of intelligence officials might have carried it out, and if new leads emerge they should be followed up on. That’s because it would take just one fairly small secret action to execute the plot and prevent disclosure: the agents Talbot identifies were closely connected and in the habit of frequently walling themselves off from those outside the club. If the assassination was a CIA hit, a single conspiracy is all it would take to bring it about.
Now consider the claim that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by a cabal of scientists eager to increase their funding, impose a socialist world order or both. What would it take for them to do this? First, there are a lot of climate scientists out there, thousands. They would all have to be in on it. Second, scientific research is not a secretive activity, sequestered from the unwashed. There would have to be ancillary conspiracies among all those who communicate or work in conjunction with the climate plotters: the lab techs, the university research administrators, the journal editors, the funding agencies. You need all these conspiracies to keep the central one secret. And then what about all the people the secondary conspirators come into contact with? How can you prevent other university officials from finding out that some of their colleagues are in cahoots with a nefarious climate plot? Now you’re talking about third-order conspiracies; hell, the whole damn school has to be in on it. Any one conspiracy is a stretch, but if you need conspiracies to cover up the conspiracies that cover up—well, you see the problem.
This can be summarized in a simple test: does the proposed conspiracy entail a small enough number of tightly connected people that only one circle of silence can keep it a secret? If so, maybe you are on to something. If not, if it’s conspiracies all the way down, stay away.
UPDATE: The time lapse between the Kennedy assassination and now has been fixed.
There is also the “what do they get out of it, that they couldn’t get in other way” question. Hence the Gates nonsense comes undone (besides which there is the fact that Gates doesn’t own any pharmaceutical companies. But he does own an IT company. If he wanted to spy on people he can do it without vaccines.
Some people, many people are saying that Donal Trump killed Carolyn Gombel in 2000. Why are the mainstream media ignoring this?
One other clue you’re into tin foil hat territory is the requirement for some unexplained/impossible mode of action to function for the scheme to work. A truly amazing number of people believe airplane “chem trails” are something more nefarious than combustion byproducts of a jet engine. So in this instance, in addition to the chain of conspiracies neened, one has to accept that placing agent x in jet fuel magically allows the government to control your thoughts.
I expect the CIA is deeply penetrated by just about every other nations intelligence agencies. MMMMM? A CIA conspiracy?
Ah, conspiracy theory culture. Sounds like a nice tool for the elite to control the sheep. Ak, I call it conspiracy theory of the conspiracy theorists.
Dave, I hadn’t heard of this, but apparently it is satire (which Qanon may even be). But then of course things can take a life of their own. Plenty of people want to find something to believe. Science is based on scepticism. Which is why it is so unpopular.
We can see another level of “conspiracy,” also.
There’s true conspiracy. So, Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot.
There’s Coordination, where agents work towards a shared goal without necessarily communicating.
And then I would include a third category- a Happy Accident Not Impeded (HANI)
How much property shifted to buyers flush with offshore cash, when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans? When climate researchers had been voicing warnings for years, even decades?
The feds and the state (probably) didn’t calculate that if they took no action in seagrass, mangroves, and strategic barriers, a hurricane would shake loose many property owners and leave them desperate to sell, or even unable to afford their property taxes and thus forfeiting ownership. But gee, how convenient when a hurricane just happened to sweep in and do just what had been predicted.
Each choice at local, state, and federal levels could be quite innocently justified. And yet strangely they all leant toward one outcome.
Noni, seems like that’s a feature of capitalism these days – disaster capitalism. There’s no shortage of idle rich with extra capital sitting in their hands waiting for this sort of “opportunity”.
There is a strong tendency of neoliberal MSM to call questioning any false flag operation conducted by intelligence agencies “a conspiracy theory.” This is a very efficient propaganda trick.
In its essence, this is an attempt to call a plausible hypothesis, supported by some facts to a be a wild rumor — an improvised news.
The originator of the term is CIA, which invented it to discredit those who questioned Warren commission report. This group of people were the original “conspiracy theorists”.
In highly polarized society the events that one group of people calls a false flag operation (for example, Guccifer 2.0) the other calls “conspiracy theory”, no matter what facts are preserved.
Again, JFK assassination is an original and classic example of use of the term of “conspiracy theory” to discredit opponents of the “deep state” and whitewash CIA activities.
This was by design the main use of the term — the discreditation of those who holds a particular point of view, the view harmful for the “deep state” interests.
Actually it is a conspiracy theory. See my commentson this on Econospeak. Oswald was a loser trying to impress his wife and was good at just one thing: shooting. Nobody would be involved in a conspiracy with him. But I am not going to debate this here, this being a simply endless sinkhole, especially for deluded paranoids like you.
Trump himself is a deep state operative, who in conjunction with the FBI helped push Mitch McConnell ‘s Eurasian plan, which started in 2009. The fact is, the Russian money spigot started with Mitch. Trump was a nice fluke, impossible without deep state apparatus helping to weaken and soften his challenger. This has personally benefited Trump organization as the 600 million loan from China has shown.
Plausible, shmausible! No proof, no credibility.
Trump is not a deep state operative; he is a
Dave, the Carolyn Gombel storyline came from the Tweet of God originally, a completely fictitious story as a response to Trump’s Scarborough murder tweets. How authoritative God’s word is in this case, is debatable. Apparently it worked as an example of how stories take on a life of their own despite no real evidence that they happened. I can’t say if it was intended that way or not, but the Twitter account is satire.